Ranch Hands

June 4, 2003

Hot, sweaty, back-breaking work. That's what I remember from my summers working for Dad, who owned our family's ranch. My brother and I dug postholes, planted trees, watered plants, rounded up cattle on horseback and even cleaned out smelly stock trailers. It wasn't my idea of fun, but my Dad insisted we learn the responsibility that goes along with the rewards of country living. 
While my friends sunbathed as lifeguards and helped customers in air-conditioned clothing shops in our small Texas town, I grumbled and complained my way through six summers of ranch work. But Dad paid us well, and I appreciated the fact that he let us have time off for church and music camps, mission trips and birthday parties at the roller skating rink. I knew not every job came with such flexibility. And there were other perks, too -- a dip in our above-ground pool, long lunch breaks provided by Mom and quality time spent with my hilarious brother.
But I can remember telling my parents I couldn't wait to leave the ranch and our small town. I felt confined, stifled and restless. There was so much more to do and see than tend cattle and watch seedlings grow. "When I grow up, I'm going to live in a city apartment and have a window box," I said to my Mom more than once.
Recently, my husband, Carey, and I took our tow-haired toddler to Hay Creek Ranch, as my parents had named their place. The meadow grass was green from spring rains and the home place had never looked more beautiful. Following my grandmother's death, my folks had taken some of her heirloom pieces and integrated them into our home, which Mom had helped her parents build when she was 6 years old. 
My son had quite a time seeing the cows, playing on the fort and navigating the now-rusty slide that Dad had built for my brother and me 25 years ago. I enjoyed hearing Mom tell Carey how her granddaddy had traded a horse and saddle for our 700 acre spread. On a cow-checking trip in my parents' beat-up Suburban, we saw deer, pheasant, cottontail rabbits, quail and windmills. My son, Jordan, had two words for it all: "Oh, wow!" 
Jordan went on walks with my parents, where he chased the gentle cattle and ran from our over-friendly ranch dogs. He fed the horses with Dad and tried on the miniature vest and chaps that Mom had sewn for him, grinning all the while. My energetic child didn't even want to nap during the day or go to sleep at night, because there was too much to see and do. 
And when Carey and I took a walk one afternoon, I proudly pointed out the trees I had helped plant with my sibling's help. The once-small seedlings now grew tall and strong, providing shade around the fence near the house. 
I thought about where we live now -- in a small Texas town not unlike the one I grew up in. We live in a four-bedroom "ranch-style" house with a big yard, and we've been poring over gardening and landscaping magazines. I want to plant trees, build a playhouse for Jordan and have a garden that attracts bunnies and birds. 
Proverbs 22:6 (NIV) says, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it." Now, at the age of 31, I realize the excellent training my parents gave me, and I appreciate the faith and values they tirelessly modeled. Those are the things that made me who I am, and those are things I want to pass on to my son. 

Dyer, BA '93, double majored in voice and English/professional writing. She, husband, Carey, and son, Jordan, 5, live in Granbury, Texas, where she works part-time as an actress in local theater and as a guest speaker to women's groups.